Jesse Watters, the Bill O’Reilly protégé who recently was promoted to the 9pm slot on Fox News as a host of the The Five, made a comment Tuesday that some saw as a lewd joke directed at Ivanka Trump.
“It’s funny, the left says they really respect women, and then when given an opportunity to respect a woman like that, they boo and hiss,” he said.
Then he added with a grin: “So I don’t really get what’s going on here, but I really liked how she was speaking into that microphone.”
In a statement Wednesday, Watters denied any implication that the comment was sexual.
“During the break we were commenting on Ivanka’s voice and how it was low and steady and resonates like a smooth jazz radio DJ,” he said in a statement. “This was in no way a joke about anything else.”
His critics were unconvinced, believing the comment to be innuendo. The editor of the conservative magazine Commentary, John Podhoretz, who is also a Weekly Standard editor and New York Post columnist, denounced him repeatedly on Twitter.
“Jesse Waters complains the Left doesn’t respect Ivanka Trump and then in front of 2.5 million people intimates Ivanka was blowing her mike,” he wrote, calling Watters a “disgusting pig”.
On Wednesday, Watters abruptly announced he would be “taking a vacation” with his family and would not return until Monday.
Its former chairman, Roger Ailes, was ousted last year two weeks after several women, including Gretchen Carlson, a former anchor, accused him of sexual harassment.
This month, two more women accused Ailes of harassment: Julie Roginsky, a current contributor, asserted that she faced retaliation for rebuffing Ailes’ sexual advances, and Alisyn Camerota, a former anchor, accused him of saying “grossly inappropriate” things to her when she asked for new opportunities at work.
When O’Reilly was dismissed, Watters was among the hosts tapped to take The Five, an afternoon ensemble show, into prime time. Watters had already been steadily on the rise. In March, for example, he interviewed Donald Trump.
He had appeared before on O’Reilly’s show. A heavily criticised segment in October relied on racial stereotypes of Asians in a series of interviews in New York’s Chinatown neighbourhood.
Watters said the October segment was “meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek and I regret if anyone found offense.”